We can go ahead and maybe change that to “Household Player of Now” because Gary Neal is already helping the surging Spurs power through the NBA regular season.
He went to Towson University after being dismissed from La Salle University when he was accused of raping a New Haven women’s basketball player. While there, he won Atlantic Ten rookie of the year.
The teams he played for remained obscure as he was not picked up by any NBA teams and was forced to take his talents overseas. He lead the Turkish Basketball League in scoring, averaging 23.6 points a game. He then went to Barcelona and eventually signed a deal with the San Antonio Spurs this past summer.
Why should you know about him? Try 53 3-pointers this season, most among NBA rookies. The Spurs are 10-3 when he scores 10 or more points. Oh, and if you haven’t noticed, the Spurs have the best record in the league with a 2 game lead over the Dallas Mavericks.
The Spurs are dominating despite losing their last two but those were against New York and the Celtics who recently got Rajon Rondo back (oh, and he had 22 assists). Regardless, they beat the Lakers, Mavericks and the Thunder in the previous games. In addition, their last two losses are their first since they were swept during last playoffs against the Suns.
His standout games definitely have asterisks since they were back-to-back 22-point performances against Denver and Phoenix. However, Neal standouts due to what he is doing with what we at the Beef commonly refer to a group of dinosaurs.
The Spurs are known for dominance but they usually hit their stride with a resurgence after the All-Star break. Right now, they are experiencing their best start in franchise history. Remember, this group of players has rings that they have won together…
Next, Neal is a part of a transforming dynasty. Before, the Spurs were known for lock down defense matched by smart play on the offense anchored by the big guys, David Robinson and then Tim Duncan. With bringing in Tony Parker, a spark was ignited in San Antonio’s offense. Manu Ginobili brought a shooting game as did Robert Horry. Brent Barry and Michael Finley added to the offense as well but they were still grounded by intense defense.
This team has been leaning towards Euro-style shooting for years and it’s just now starting to show.
Now, George Hill’s endurance and speed dominates the offense and Neal is doing nothing but fitting in perfectly. San Antonio is fourth in the league in scoring with 105 a game. Last season, they were eighth in the league with only 100 and in 2008-09 they were ninth with only 96 points a night.
Neal, a guard, is a part of a backcourt that is No. 1 in the league in scoring with over 51 a game. Yeah, San Antonio has changed and has done it light years before even Greg Popavich could have guessed and according to an article in the New York Times, he didn’t even know who he was until he walked into the gym at the beginning of training camp.
The next step is to increase his minutes if possible. He is listed as a point guard right now but with less than one assist a game, it might be best to move him over to the two. Next, his minutes need to increase. Ginobili has shown that he can work well off of the bench and it may be a good idea to start Neal who hasn’t started once this season. They are 15-2 when he gets 20 minutes or more. This will also help with his confidence on the floor.
Next, the Spurs need to decide which way they are going to take this team Duncan doesn’t fit into the offense at times and is usually the last up the court. It’s hard to determine what to do with him since his post play is still very valuable. DeJuan Blair’s slow development hasn’t helped but they shouldn’t give up on him yet. They may need to consider how worth it is to have Duncan around when he’s have his worst season yet in both scoring and rebounding.
Neal still has a lot of work to do but is joining the ranks of top Euro players that seem to be flourishing in their moves to the NBA. It’s up to him and how he is played in San Antonio that will determine whether or not he will remain a name that is needed to know.